Working with software day-to-day usually means you have to juggle project work, meetings, calls and other interrupts.

What single technique, trick, or tool do you find most useful in managing your time?

How do you stay focused?

What is your single biggest distraction from your work?

+4  A: 

I find email the most distracting, so I've really cracked down on receiving certain types of email. I've unsubscribed from many mailing lists, job alerts etc. Shutting down email for a period of the day is quite useful too.

And resist the temptation to browse the internet! Checking your RSS feeds etc for "2 minutes" can often turn into 10...
Phill Sacre
Same with browsing stackoverflow.
Chris Upchurch

Single most useful? is AWESOME for focusing on what currrently needs to get done, and has raised my productivity by tons. (Bonus tip: Use Google Chrome to make it its own application and then make the app always be on top of other windows)

Biggest distraction? Google Reader.

+8  A: 

I read this rule somewhere, and I use it every day...

  • If someone asks you to do something - if it takes less than 2 minutes, do it immediately. If it takes longer, put it on your list and come back to it.

This really works for me.

That would be David Allen from Getting Things Done.
That was it... thanks!
+1  A: 

A single answer to all of the listed questions is David Ellen's Getting Things Done (GTD) ( "The Art of Stress-Free Productivity" )

A 45-minute presentation of the process can be found on youtube, and you can get the book on Amazon

Silver Dragon
+1  A: 

Also you could think about the kind of things which make you want to browse the net, check your email, etc. For example, if a build I'm working on is taking too long my mind will wander.

So it actually pays off to make the build process as quick and efficient as you can make it, so you can make changes and test quickly.

I also find it helps to get enough sleep (tiredness is bad for concentration) and not to drink too much caffeine (seriously. I feel so much better after cutting down the amount of caffeine I drink. Try naturally caffeine free teas!)

(I seem to have wandered slightly off-topic into concentration there... still, I find the better I can concentrate the better I will use time!)

Phill Sacre
Not off-topic at all. Thanks!
+13  A: 

The trick the Getting Things Done system teaches is to have a trusted system you can put action items into. That way you don't have to keep "juggling". To keep with the metaphor, you can put the other balls down and have confidence that they will not be forgotten. Then you can concentrate on a single ball at a time. There are many, many other excellent tricks GTD teaches. Well worth getting the book.

Eugene Katz
Joel made a comment in one of the Podcasts that I really agreed with - the GTD book is pretty long and it labours the points a bit. I found the best way to start getting more productive was to read the first few chapters and then put the book down and get started!
I was lucky enough to have the workshop offered at my workplace. Then I got the book and read it with my wife.
Eugene Katz
+1  A: 

If you want to improve something, you first have to measure it.

I like Rescuetime. It logs all applications and websites you visit and how much time you spend there. You can tag applications/websites, i. e. with "work", "waste", "news" and get nice charts, productivity measures etc.

+5  A: 

To manage the general mayhem of the job, I try to use a toned down version of GTD focusing mainly on trying to maintain Inbox Zero and pushing tasks into a todo list (I use Remember the Milk for task list management).

As for maintaining flow in spite of interruptions, leaving a TDD project in a state where tests are failing tends to give you a place to jump right back in when you come back from a meeting or other interruption. Leaving a batch of uncommitted changes might serve a similar purpose -- to get your mind instantly back into the flow of the project without having to go look around to remind yourself what state things are in. Beyond that, using a fairly detailed task list for the projects at hand can help keep you on task and moving forward.

Often times, I've found my manager's manager to be the biggest distraction! :-) He likes to feel plugged in to the day-to-day work of his dev teams and frequently comes around on "walk-abouts" to see how things are going.

Brian Phillips
+3  A: 

I enjoy going to the library. The quiet but busy, concentrated atmosphere basically forces you to work. The change of venue also seems to shut out some of the busyness and maybe worries you have in day-to-day life.


(Slightly off-topic)

They says there is no such thing as time management. You can't manage an hour and get extra 20 mins out of it. Well, I recently discovered that you can. It you're listening to podcasts or watching recoded web casts, you can speed up the play speed. I found that it also helps me stay focused on the content rather than drifting off and starting check my email during the natural pauses. Then I saw Jeff's post on the same topic.

Eugene Katz

Email, IM, Skype... all those can distract. But biggest distraction is when my fellow colleague ask me why I wrote some year old algorithm this way and not that way. It brings my work to halt even if I know the answer.

To stop this interruptions, we have a 5-minute break every hour outside the office where we can talk about such problems.

Hugo Riley

There are a lot of things to do and I'm not sure you'll find any single technique to get organized and stay focused.


  • Do list the things you have to do. Several short lists will be needed (today, later, inbox == to be sorted out, etc...). Review these lists once in the morning, and then in the evening. These related posts are worth a read: The Taste of the Day and The Trickle List
  • Timeboxing: allocate time in your calendar to get the tasks done
  • As suggested by harriyott, switching off email is kind of essential too!
Rollo Tomazzi
+3  A: 

I use most of ZTD ( GTD is too sophisticated and to big for me.

Basically, I make lists of tasks. Every morning I select three which I really need to do that day. I work on them until they're done. I struggle not to get dragged to other things.

In an office, I sometimes book a conference room and work there, distraction free. I emerge from the lair when I'm finished with the three most important tasks.

+2  A: 

My single biggest distraction is myself - I tend to go all hare-brained, chasing emails and internet links much of the time. Therefore, I'm using a simple trick to discipline myself into staying focused and on-task for larger parts of the day. The principle is to stay accountable for the use of my time:

1) Have a scheduled job in your operating system, that pops up a small messagebox every 15 minutes (in Windows, it should run the command C:\windows\system32\cmd.exe /C "start /B msg jpretori /W /V "15-minute check"")

2) Have IDailyDiary running in your system tray (a text file will work fine, too). Every time the box pops up, fill in what you've been up to the last 15 minutes.

I've caught myself with an ugly day filled with procrastination before... It's quite a good motivation to stay on-task.

Very interesting approach 1. Where/how did you learn those things? Many Thx
dole doug

This question has already been asked, so you might search for it.

I personally use Zen to done which is a simplified version of "Get Things Done". For the trusted system I host Tracks application for myself.

Marcin Gil

The best way to get through a big chunk of work while staying focused is to list your priorities on paper before you start. Trying to keep a big list in your head is a sure path to procrastination. Plus, it's a great feeling to tick off items as you finish them. Put on some music, close down your email, and get busy.

But then you have people trying to get your attention. Make sure your colleagues and clients know that you prefer to receive their queries in email rather than in person or by phone. Bugs go directly into the tracking system, without anyone having to tap you on the shoulder for each one. Sounds obvious, but stopping your work to discuss something for 5 minutes can sometimes cost you 30 minutes productivity by the time you are focused again.


You can find a great document about time management in Wouter van Oortmerssen (aka Aardappel, the developer of famouses Open Source games like cube and )

The article I'm talking about is this

+1  A: 

I find that lets me know what I was actually doing all day, rather than what I THINK I was doing!

It also lets you put a "productive" level on each process/website you run or do so you can see how productive you are being.

+2  A: 

Encourage people to push their correspondence with you down the distraction chain:

  1. Phone / Face-to-face
  2. Instant messaging
  3. Email

You can do this by deffering them: "I'm really busy right now, can you send me it in an email?"

This should reduce the amount of interruptions you receive allowing you to stay "in the zone" for longer periods of time, increasing your productivity.

Finally, allot time for processing emails at set times of the day. I, for example, have my email set to send and receive once every two hours. This bulking of activities allows you to get more done in the day without impacting customer relations.

Garry Shutler

I guess you're after something practical. What I do is keep my action items away from my work environment, it helps keep me focussed. I keep a pad next to my desk, I write down each action item for the day at the top and half way down start keeping notes. When I've finished a task I tick it off, anything not ticked can be carried over to the next day (if it's still relevant). Been using it for about 3 years, I find it keeps me productive and helps me remember things. I've tried all kinds of software solutions, nothing works better for me.


I have an old laptop that I remove the wireless card from and sit on a completely quiet room away from distractions. Whatever I can't get done without the internet is just leave until later. My biggest problem is that I gooel to find a solution and end up doing 30 minutes research on something a blogger has mentioned in passing. I still find it takes me a good hour before i get into the flow of not distracting myself.

John Nolan
Bah now where was I...
John Nolan

On the 'how to stay focused', I think once you decide to close your email and put your phone on send, the next things to control are the sounds around you that might derail your thoughts. People talking, phones ringing, etc.

I have started putting the headphones on and surfing to This is a noise generator that gives you the option of white, pink, or brown/red noise. It drowns out most of the audio distractions that often poke at my concentration.

Gern Blandston

Stay productive: When I'm working on a boring project and notice I don't do anything useful but reading news, I set a timer. Simple enough, set your mobile on a 1-2 hour timer. Work during that period. When the timer rings, take a break and feel good about yourself :)

For some reason, this works (for me and a couple of other people I know)!

+1  A: 

The single most useful piece of time-management advice I could give is just get on and do it. If something is going to take less than 5 minutes to do, do it now.

David Heggie
+2  A: 

Recently I've started using a great little free windows app called NextAction which you can get from here.

It's greatness comes from it's simplicity and it really helps to refocus and stay on track when dealing with all the days distractions ... email, co-workers, scrums, rss feeds, twitter, lunch, coffee breaks, etc. Having a list of what I'm working on always there on the desktop makes it very easy focus after any context switch.

Much better than pencil and paper, check it out for yourself.

NOTE: There is a more comprehensive web based 'NextAction' at ... not so good for me, but maybe for others.

hi Brodie -- if there's any improvement you want in NextAction (or TimeSnapper) just write an ask! Always looking to improve.
Leon Bambrick

The single most valuable tool that I can recommend is a "todo" list.

This may take the form of a specialised app, gadget or pen and paper, however the most important thing to remember is that new tasks should be added to the bottom of the list and tasks to be started must be taken from the top - ie. don't cherry pick your tasks, as this will leave you with a task list full of time-consuming (and often boring) jobs that will begin to drag you down.


Possibly better for programmers than GTD is Time Management for System Administrators. Same basic principles (reduce interruptions, keep a list) but with a nerdier bent.

Boofus McGoofus

I close email and listen to soothing music. Of course, this tactic really is all about minimizing distractions.

+4  A: 

You should see this:

Randy Pausch Lecture: Time Management

It's a teacher from Carnegie Mellon who is near dying, giving his final lecture about time management. It's the best tips and tricks you can find.

You should really keep my edit, it is considered rude to include such large links in a thread like this.
Geoffrey Chetwood
It's called information design
maybe rude but good link, worth watching the full hour

The lecture of Randy is great, especially since he knows that he does not have much time left in this world.

Meetings are the biggest time wasters. Try to avoid them wherever you can.

I don't believe in those tools popping up every so often asking me what I'm currently doing. That's very distracting as well.

It might be good to make a time-log for for a couple of weeks, but just to understand where you are spending your time so you may be able to improve things.

I like the time management stuff by Steven Covey.

... and by the way I'm lecturer for time management for IEEE for Europe/Middle East and Africa.


Try this:

Personal Manager is an application designed to help you remember tasks and important events. Uses images, sound, music, sends emails, sms's. It can change your desktop for work, sporting events...etc. Just create an event and Personal Manager will remind you.

Clint Mclean